Whaling is a highly controversial issue these days, and conservation groups have made obtaining global consensus on whale protection a high priority. Strong resistance from a few pro-whaling countries like Norway and Japan has complicated this effort. Unfortunately, the BBC recently reported on the failure of a measure to declare that whale harvesting was not a scientifically valid method of increasing the size of fish populations. The measure, introduced at the World Conservation Congress, was supported by Japan and Norway after long, consensus-building sessions. Although a participant in such sessions, Australia withdrew support at the last minute because it wanted the measure to include stronger language.
Environmentalists must often walk a fine line between achieving consensus with governments and policymakers and sticking to their principles. Often, imperfect regulations or laws are preferred over no action. Given the often hostile feelings on both sides of the whaling issue, it is unfortunate that a rare consensus was broken at the last minute. There is no benefit to alienating pro-whaling nations, who have often threatened to leave the International Whaling Commission and make their own decisions about whaling. For whale conservation measures to work, consensus must be reached among many nations, as whales are very mobile and do not typically stay put. Let's hope that the Australians, Japanese and Norwegians all keep cool heads over this latest disagreement, and continue to participate in international decisionmaking over whaling issues.